A teaching certificate

Teaching and audition certificates have become all the rage in the social history (of knowledge production) of the Medieval Middle East during the last decades. Ibn Ṭūlūn allegedly complained that he lost most of those he received from his teachers in the turmoil of of revolts and reconquests of Early Ottoman Damascus.  Yet, some actually have survived and even been edited by Muḥammad Muṭīʿ al-Ḥāfiẓ under the title Nawādir al-ijāzāt wa-l-samāʿāt (Beirut 1998).

In turn, some certificates he issued in turn to his own students do survive as well, dispersed in manuscripts in Berlin, Istanbul, Alexandria and Princeton. So far, I could identify five teaching certificates (ijāza) in Ibn Ṭūlūn’s handwriting. The four I have seen are between two and five pages long and were all written between 922/1516 and 943/1536. I hope to present all of them here in the near future.

The first one (see below for the attachment) is the earliest among them and also one of the shortest. It is found on fols. 30a-b in MS Wetzstein I 134 at the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. In fact, Ibn Ṭūlūn might have been only the scribe but not the authority of this document, as it documents the transmission of a work elaborating on the merits of Damascus (faḍāʾil) from his teacher ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Nuʿaymī who was himself present. Fittingly, the ijāza follows directly a copy of another faḍāʾil work by Ibn Qāḍī Shuhba.

Even though it sits right in the middle of the volume, the ijāza carries two paratextual elements on the second page that indicate a later compilation of that codex. One is a reading note and the second a library stamp, both of which indicate one Ḥāmid b. Ismāʿīl al-Taqī as a temporary owner around 1314/1799. Below the reading note, there is another annotation which seems to indicate a price (all are included in the transcript).

This ijāza has some interesting information concerning Ibn Ṭūlūn’s social and intellectual environment. For once, the presence of his life-long friend, the Meccan scholar Jār Allāh Muḥammad Ibn Fahd stands out. Following Ibn Ṭūlūn’s own journey to Mecca, where he received several ijāzas from members of that family, he seems to have reciprocated by taking Jār Allāh under his wings in Damascus, and he frequently refers to his presence in other works as well.

Secondly, this session took place a mere half year before the Ottoman conquest of the city and in a garden (bustān) in Qaṣr al-Labbād, an area in the vicinity of Barza and Qābūn, north-east of the old city. The geographical designation is used until this day. In contrast, the three other sessions all took place in mosques. Nonetheless, at this one several Egyptians and Meccans were present, among them the imām of the Shrine of Abraham.

Ibn Ṭūlūn refers to this event in his chronicle as well (Mufākahat, vol. 2, 7), where he adds that the judge Karīm al-Dīn Ibn al-Akram decides to move ḥadīth studies there. Most of the participants met at the jujube tree in front of the judge’s house to travel there. In this account, al-Nuʿaymī is only mentioned as one and not even the first of those present, whereas the ijāza shows that he must have been rather one of the central figures in the following session.

Finally, the annotations mentioned above might indicate a later assemblage of the manuscript codex. Even though the text prior to the ijāza was copied contemporarily to its creation (the colophon gives the year 913/1508), it is not the work referred to in the ijāza. Instead it refers to a faḍāʾil work by the Mālikī author “Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. Shujāʿ al-Rabaʿī” (d. 444/1052-53).

The transcript of ijāza is an xml file and uses TEI XML for the manuscript description. In this I have followed the fihrist guidelines. Minor structural markup indicates page breaks. Place and personal names have been marked up as well in a very simple manner.   Every annotation on the two folios has been entered into a different <div> section.

Yet, the use of TEI is not completely coherent when it comes to point where I was unsure in my reading of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s handwriting. These instances are marked by a “(؟)”; sometimes two possible readings are given divided by a “/”. These uncertainties are indicated on the level of individual words.

Addition: All four ijāzas have been uploaded to github.

Upcoming Panel at the School of Mamluk Studies Conference (Beirut, 11-13 May 2017)

The next annual SMS conference will come to Beirut in May. Together with Christopher Bahl (SOAS, London), I have organized a panel on “The Oral and the Written: Cultures of Transmission across the funūn“.

Participants include Ahmad Nazir Atassi (Louisisna Tech University), who will speak about the textual transmission of Ibn Saʿd’s biographical dictionary, and Mariam Shaibani (Universtiy of Chicago), whose talk will explore authorship and transmission in Islamic law. Her paper focuses on the magnum opus of ʿIzz al-Dīn Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām (d. 660/1262) and its transmission from his lifetime through the 14th century. Christopher Bahl will speak about the transregional transmission of grammar treasises (in particular, across the Indian Ocean basin). My own presentation addresses the surprisingly large-scale survival of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s minor works or transcripts (taʿlīqāt/taʿālīq), the reason for which has to be sought in his bibliographical and archival practices. It differs from the subjects of the other talks in as far as it is, first, a very local case of textual transmission, and, second, because most of the copying was actually done by the author himself.

Here is the abstract (by Christopher Bahl and myself):

The Oral and the Written: Cultures of Transmission across the funūn
organized by Christopher D. Bahl (London) and Torsten Wollina (Beirut)

Scholarly practices in the premodern Islamicate world were geared towards a diverse set of transmissional frameworks and articulated through a variety of social encounters. Scholarship over the years has pointed out the centrality of practices intended to preserve knowledge within everyday life during the Mamluk period (Berkey, 1992; Chamberlain 1994). More recent studies have emphasized writing, particularly the ways in which processes of textualisation played out in different spheres of social life (Hirschler, 2012) or acted as a medium of communication (Bauer, 2013) in the medieval Arab lands. It is well established by now that written transmission did not only complement oral traditions but also transformed and competed with them (Blecher 2013, Burak 2015). Texts were rarely used as simple ‘storage containers’, nor were they intended only for individual use. Rather, texts were embedded in preexisting oral contexts (Blecher 2013, Pfeifer 2015) and were often disseminated along similar networks as oral traditions.
We aim to explore how these developments brought about changes in the transmission of knowledge and the constitution of authority across different fields of scholarly inquiry (ʿilm / fann).  We understand transmission practices across these fields as particular scholarly forms of communication, which we trace through written artefacts from various genres, such as historiography, philology, and law, and their referential presence (e.g. intertextualities) in their circulation across and beyond the Mamluk realm.
Our guiding questions include: What is transmitted in these manuscripts, or what are their multiple textual constituents? How, i.e. through which academic encounters, patronage networks or financial transactions, were the manuscripts or their content transmitted;? And by whom were they circulated, in which social environment and with whose participation? These questions contribute to the broader issue of how and what scholars impart in the process of manuscript transmission in different times and localities.


  • Bauer, Thomas. “‘Ayna hādhā min al-Mutanabbī!’ Toward an Aesthetics of Mamluk Literature”. Mamlūk Studies Review 17 (2013), 5-22. Berkey, Jonathan. The Transmission of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo. Princeton, 1992.
  • Blecher, Joel. “Ḥadīth Commentary in the Presence of Students, Patrons, and Rivals: Ibn Ḥajar and Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī in Mamluk Cairo”. Oriens 41 (2013): 261-87.
  • Burak, Guy. The Second Formation of Islamic Law: The Hanafi School in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Chamberlain, Michael. Knowledge and Social Practice in Medieval Damascus, 1190-1350. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Hirschler, Konrad. The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands a Social and Cultural History of Reading Practices. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.
  • Pfeifer, Helen. “Encounter After the Conquest: Scholarly Gatherings in 16th-Century Ottoman Damascus.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 47/2 (2015): 219-239.